Russian Bear

The bear is known to be a very popular character of Russian folklore from the late VIII century.  It is mentioned in the Russian  bilini (storytales). When those stories  were created and started to spread through the word of mouth over Russia about the life of Russian peoples in different areas, the character of bear immediately got a positive meaning. Russian liked his size, his posture, his behavioral kindness (looking and observing him). The bear was also a little lazy which Russian also liked. The life of Russian tribes, especially in the Northern regions was depended on bears in particular. The people hunted the bear all the time, and in the time they knew his customs and behavior. That helped in part, that the character of Bear moved to the Russian folktales and then fairytales. Later the bear became a significant and sometimes the main character of literary works, fairy tales, epics and sayings. Since Russians like the bear they respect him and call him as a man and kindly "Misha", or Toptiguin.

When bears were in abundance in Russia in 15-16 century, they were frequent visitors not only in villages but also towns and even cities. In 16 century the first chronicles of foreign tourists and the first businessmen cited numerous bears on the streets of Moscow! Those who responded to the offers of the Russian Tzar Ivan the IV(The Terrible) to come to Russia and start developing merchant's trade, were amazed that Russians even were not afraid of those creatures!

Since the policies of Ivan the Terrible were unpredictable ( he liked even to invite his enemies to the dinner, or festivities and then grouped them together and let starving and prepared bears for this occasion to rip his opponents apart),  Russia in the view of the West started to be associated with all possible agressivenes, laziness, barbarity and danger.There was no trust in the Russian authorities. The wars against the Northern and southern neigbors surely were proving that Russia can't be a good peace minded country, was strong and aggressive. Slowly but steadily the image of Russia became the image of the bear,-, unpredictable and dangerous...

Russian still love bear, consider his a charismatic and kind, almost always as a friend and almost never as an oppresor or aggressor. Ivan the Terrible used the bears as a city emblem of such important places as Novgorod, Yaroslavl and Perm. The bear also appeared on the big state stamp of Ivan the Fourht after the Livonian wars  (1558-1583) took place. Later, in 1672 the bears emblems were incorporated in the Title book among other land emblems.

"The Novgorod bear had the state and political meaning of the guard, whereas Yaroslavl and Perm bears reflected essential cultural models. The first one stands for the single combat and the victory over the bear of the prince, also interpreted as the victory of Christianity over paganism, and the second one symbolizes Christianization in its religious and educational aspect. If the Yaroslavl emblem has an element of violence, the "quieter" Perm emblem conveys rather peaceful introduction into the new belief.

In XVIII-XIX centuries some more bears appeared in the Russian territorial and city heraldry. Partly they originated from Yaroslavl (the arms of Maloyaroslavets), and partly boasted more original appearance: a bear in its den in the emblem of Ust-Sysolsk, or a bear climbing a pine to get honey in the emblem of Sosnitsy – those depicted local natural peculiarities of the land.

The Russian bear was and remains a part of everyday life, and even gaining weight in recent years. It is sufficient to have a look at the titles of articles recently published in world press ('Russian bear comes back', 'Awakening of Russian bear', and ‘Russian bear plays muscles') to realize the meaning of this symbol in politics and culture. The bear became an emblem of the political movement 'Edinstvo' (Unity), and following that of the party 'Edinaya Rossia’ (United Russia). When the President of Russia was D. Medvedev (deriving from bear- medved, медведь) and had  'the bear’s surname,  the symbol gained refreshed popularity."  For more go to